Plans for a new program that would encourage Lawrence landlords to offer vacant apartments to the homeless may have to be put on hold because of city funding problems.
City commissioners as part of their draft 2009 budget had included about $58,000 for the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority to hire a coordinator for the Housing Connection program.
But at their Tuesday evening meeting, commissioners likely will consider backing away from that commitment. That's because concerns are rising over cuts included in the budget to other homeless programs.
To come up with the $58,000 in new funding, commissioners cut elsewhere in their budget, including about $44,000 from the Homeless Outreach Program run by the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center.
Bert Nash and a group of downtown ministers have recently urged city commissioners to reconsider that cut. David Johnson, CEO for Bert Nash, said the funding cut would require that at least one of the four homeless outreach workers be cut. Each outreach worker provides counseling and assistance to 30 to 40 individuals.
"There's no question the program has made a difference," Johnson said. "Having staff out on the street on a regular basis has allowed us to build up relationships with people who often don't trust the system."
City Manager David Corliss said the concern over cutbacks to the outreach program will lead him to ask commissioners to reconsider the new housing program. He said he will recommend that city commissioners ask the Community Commission on Homelessness to recommend how the city should spend the approximately $180,000 set aside for the two programs.
"The consensus from discussions that I've had is that with the limited resources, it may be better to fully fund the outreach program rather than trying to start a new program right now," Corliss said.
Being forced to pick between the two programs may be difficult for homeless service advocates. The Bert Nash program was started at the suggestion of the Community Commission on Homelessness, but the homeless commission also has been a strong proponent of creating the landlord program.
The landlord program has been touted as a good way to provide temporary housing to the homeless at a relatively low cost. Vacancy rates in Lawrence apartments have been higher than average in recent years, which had homeless service advocates hopeful that some landlords may be willing to participate.
Corliss said he thinks both programs have merits.
"But I believe it is going to be tough to fully fund both of them," Corliss said.
City commissioners are scheduled to finalize the last details of the 2009 budget at their 6:35 p.m. meeting Tuesday at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.